Campus free speech, Clinton and Shakespeare, and other observations…

By Jefferson Flanders

With a tip of the ballcap to legendary New York columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

SEPTEMBER WAS A STRANGE MONTH FOR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ON AMERICA’S COLLEGE CAMPUSES. Columbia University invited the president of Iran—a Holocaust denier, Israel hater, and all-purpose enemy of the West—to share a stage with its president, Lee C. Bollinger, who proceeded to hector and insult Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the Iranian spoke.

Bollinger apparently forgot both his manners and the old saw that trying to teach a pig to whistle is a waste of time—it only annoys the pig. True to form, Ahmadinejad “debated” the issues by evading all direct questions and informing the audience that, among other things, Iran had no homosexuals.
As Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield points out in the Weekly Standard, Bollinger focused his criticism on Ahmadinejad’s noxious actions, not on his noxious ideology—undercutting Columbia’s stated public purpose in inviting the Iranian president, which was supposedly for an exchange of ideas.

Meanwhile the University of Florida campus police tasered a student (one Andrew Meyer) who had the temerity to ask the hapless Senator John Kerry if he was a member, like President Bush, of Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale. (The much-played “Don’t tase me, bro” YouTube video of the incident is quite bizarre). The answer to Meyer’s question, by the way, is that yes, Kerry and Bush are believed to be members but, according to the rules of the club, are not supposed to say so.

KATIE COURIC PROVIDED SOME COMIC RELIEF DURING THE Ahmadinejad circus, letting it be known that her mnemonic for pronouncing his name is “I’m a dinner jacket.

IN THE LATEST HARVARD MAGAZINE, STEPHEN GREENBLATT relates an intriguing story about former President Bill Clinton. Greenblatt had attended a White House poetry evening at which Clinton mentioned that his first encounter with poetry had been memorizing passages from Macbeth in junior high school. Greenblatt then writes:

After the speeches, I joined the line waiting to shake the president’s hand. When my turn came, a strange impulse came over me that I cannot adequately explain and certainly cannot justify. This was a moment when rumors of the Lewinsky affair were circulating, but before the whole thing had blown up into the grotesque national circus that it soon became. “Mr. President,” I said, sticking out my hand, “Don’t you think that Macbeth is a great play about an immensely ambitious man who feels compelled to do things that he knows are politically and morally disastrous?” Clinton looked at me for a moment, still holding my hand, and said, “I think Macbeth is a great play about someone whose immense ambition has an ethically inadequate object.”

I was astonished by the aptness, as well as the quickness, of this comment, so perceptively in touch with Macbeth’s anguished brooding about the impulses that are driving him to seize power by murdering Scotland’s legitimate ruler…

Clinton then recited one of Macbeth’s soliloquies, leaving Greenblatt to conclude that he had”missed his true vocation, which was, of course, to be an English professor.”

HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A SCORNED ANCHORMAN, or so it seems as Dan Rather has launched a legal assault on CBS over his departure from the network after the Memogate debacle. The key question: if the courts accept the civil suit (no sure thing), is Rather determined to get a public airing, or will he accept a monetary settlement to go away quietly? Stay tuned.

JOURNALIST JUAN WILLIAMS HAS AN AMAZING GUEST COLUMN in Time magazine sure to ignite further debate over the health of African-American culture. Williams, who is black, wrote the piece in defense of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who had been criticized for his comments on the topic. What is startling about Williams’ essay is his blunt assessment of the problems facing the black community.

The most pernicious damage being done by the twisted presentation of black life in pop culture is the self-destructive message being beamed into young, vulnerable black brains. Young black people, searching for affirmation of their racial identity, are minute by minute being sold on the cheap idea that they are authentically black only if they imitate the violent, threatening attitude of the rappers and use the gutter language coming from the minstrels on TV.

The lesson from the rappers and comedians is that any young brother or sister who is proud to be black has to treat education with indifference, dismiss love and marriage as the business of white people and dress like the rappers who dress like prisoners — no comb in the jail so they wear doo-rags all day, and no belts so their pants hang down around their butts.

Williams closes his column by excoriating all those who “sell out the history and pride of black people to make a buck.” Tough stuff.

NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM: so now we can look forward to a conservative, an organization called Freedom’s Watch.

ON THE DAY THE NEW YORK METS eliminated themselves from baseball’s playoffs in a collapse of epic proportion, it’s fitting to close with the words of one-time Mets manager Casey Stengel: “Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose ’em I never knew existed before.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders

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